Media has always had a huge role in politics. In the U.S., we have the myth that JFK won the presidency because TV (which is largely true; his public perception changed wildly after that night.) Obama was famous for his use of Facebook and other social media platforms. And, of course, the United States currently enjoys its first “Twitter president.”
<Insert preferred deity here> help us.
Media changes how we communicate and deft use of its platforms can make or break a political issue or candidate. Television made mass visuals part of politics for the first time, giving a photogenic Kennedy the upper hand in the first televised debate in U.S. history. Facebook allowed organizers in the 2008 election to build excitement among younger voters and mobilize volunteers. Twitter — for better or worse — gives us insight into the unfiltered psyche of one of the most powerful people on the planet.
But wait: there’s more! The internet has shortened the news cycle. We learn about events we would have never heard about otherwise, like some of the local Mississippi politics Hannah is going to discuss, but the constant stream of information means that events are easily drowned. The speed of the news also means we have a short communal memory; what seems urgent one day often disappears in a matter of days — or hours. Newspapers are also struggling in the digital world, meaning that there is often less in-depth local reporting which national news agencies rely on. Generational and regional differences in media consumption also shape political views. Younger populations often rely more on internet news sources like podcasts or blogs while older generations tend to watch the news on TV or listen on radio.
So in this episode we’ll be talking about the ways that media technology changes how we think about national politics. Let us know what impacts you’ve noticed in your communities (I’d be particularly fascinated to know how this shakes out in other countries!) or any questions you might have.
If all else fails, hopefully we can give you some fun media trivia to diffuse tense family discussions over the upcoming holidays. Oi.
From Hannah: For months, I think most Mississippians knew that we would not be putting the midterms behind us for Thanksgiving. We knew that the special senate election to replace Thad Cochran would probably end in a run-off between current appointed Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (Republican) and former Secretary of Agriculture Mike Espy (Democrat).
Side note: College students or any other absentee voters going home this week, you can vote absentee at your county court house. Also, registered Mississippi voters can vote in the run-off Tuesday, Nov. 27 even if they didn’t initially vote. For those of you, like me, who have to mail-in your absentee ballots, you need to make sure they’re in by Monday.
What most Mississippians probably didn’t expect to discuss over the Thanksgiving holidays were Hyde-Smith’s multiple, major gaffes and racist remarks. For those of you who haven’t heard, it began with a video that went viral catching Hyde-Smith saying of a cattle rancher, “If he invited me to a public hanging, I’d be on the front row.” Hyde-Smith’s campaign put out a statement with no apology and a refusal to acknowledge the history of lynching in the state: “I used an exaggerated expression of regard, and any attempt to turn this into a negative connotation is ridiculous.” (She, in fact, did not offer an apology until last night’s debate, which mainly focused on her defending her own character). At a press conference the day after the video went live, she refused to answer any questions from the media and continued to repeat “We put out a statement yesterday and we stand by that it’s statement.”
While the “public hanging” comments have received the most attention from the media, another disturbing video from a gathering in Starkville, Mississippi went viral. In the video, Hyde-Smith says of college students, “And then they remind me, that there’s a lot of liberal folks in those other schools who that maybe we don’t want to vote. Maybe we want to make it just a little more difficult. And I think that’s a great idea.” When she faced backlash, Hyde-Smith’s campaign once again claimed she was “joking” and even released a tweet with Mississippi State students with Hyde-Smith seemingly laughing together. This backfired when one of the students pictured came forward on Twitter saying, “But I do not, however, support Cindy Hyde Smith. I am disgusted. The sole purpose of this picture being posted is because I am black. … She is attempting to show herself in a different light by using this photo of me. We were not laughing in regards to her terrible statements, and I don’t appreciate this post trying to make it seem so.” The original post on Twitter has since been deleted.
— Doktor Zoom (@DoktorZoom) November 17, 2018
As a Political Science major I want to understand and inform myself about every candidate. But I do not, however, support Cindy Hyde Smith. I am disgusted. The sole purpose of this picture being posted is because I am black. https://t.co/yOEZAbuloq
— JR Coleman (@JR__Coleman) November 16, 2018
Hyde-Smith has continued to make the national news: she accepted a donation from a white supremacist (which her campaign later returned after the story broke), Walmart and other corporations such as AT&T have walked back their support of her, photos posted on her Facebook account of Hyde-Smith posing with Confederate “artifacts” at Beauvoir have surfaced, she refused to have a public audience (and had other demands) at the only senate debate, and she was featured on Rachel Maddow’s show for getting the election day wrong during the senate debate (among other gaffes despite having notes).
Conventional wisdom says that this race should have been an easy win for Republicans. But now, Espy has a fighting chance. You may recall that this race of parallels the 2017 special election in Alabama between Roy Moore and Senator Doug Jones. But the question on everyone’s mind, both in Mississippi and across the nation following this race is, will Hyde-Smith’s racist comments and embarrassing missteps (like getting election day wrong) be enough to get people to vote against her? Trump, unfortunately, remains popular in Mississippi and has endorsed Hyde-Smith.
As we approach election day, however, it’s important to keep in mind that many of these news stories about Hyde-Smith began through viral videos seemingly shot by someone who happened to attend the events where she made these disturbing statements (that were sent to Lamar White, Jr. of Bayou Brief — here’s his take on the videos) and social media. Most voters wouldn’t know what she had said, given the small nature of these events, in the past. Since the 2016 election, we’ve had to reckon with the negative effects of social media and its role in fake news. But these videos are real statements made by a major candidate in a major election. And for those of us who go to school out of state (like me), can’t make a political rally, etc. this is valuable information to have when making the decision of how to cast their ballots.
There is a lot more that we can talk about in relation to the media (which is a term I admit is more helpful as an umbrella term than anything else) and elections. Especially since Trump’s rise, political commentators have treated elections as competitions and discussed their entertainment value (see New York Times reporter Jonathan Martin on the Mississippi senate debate), rather than focusing on the true issues facing voters or the consequences of those elections. We could also talk about political ads, particularly the turn to negative political ads, and their role in elections.